Saturday, June 9, 2012

Week 2: Small Town Struggles

Allo Allo!  Ready for today's adventure? It's a good one. But might be a little long. I'll try to keep it brief but thorough!

(OH, yesterday went to the National Sciences Institute museum with Noah and saw dinosaurs! It was great! Met the nicest woman working the cafe counter and had a lot of fun. Then 3 minutes after we left, intending to go to a park to relax, it started pouring. By the time we got home it was sunny again, but with lots of puddles. I just stayed home rest of night. Now on to today!)

Marianne and I came up with a Plan A and a Plan B for today.  Plan A was to go to a small town called the "smallest town in the world" where there is a "confiturie" (jam/marmalade making place) and overall cuteness and charm.  Because it's so small, there are no trains there, and on the weekends the city is even car-less! It makes access "Expert Difficulty" (like playing a video game. We decided that today. Rating all travel by that system from now on.).  Our plan was to take a train to the closest town and take a shuttle from that town to Durbuy.
Plan B was to take a train to a still-small-but-not-miniscule-like-Durbuy-city called Dinant.  And then we'd be there. (Thorough plan, huh?)

Actual results: 8:30am We went to the ticket counter to confirm with them that Durbuy actually exists and is able to be reached and that we won't be stranded there.  First, we had no idea how to pronounce the city name.  We said "Dur-bye".  Just so you know, it's actually "Durh-bwee," like we would have been able to figure that out... So the lady was confused for a while where we wanted to go.  Once she figured it out, she told us she couldn't help us so we had to go to the information desk and ask them.  Mind you, we are in the largest train station in the area (probably the country). No clue where the information desk was. We looked for a moment and decided to be risk takers and just get on the train and figure it out when we arrived. YAY adventure!  We went to the machine that tells you where your train picks up and what direction and times and such.  We entered our information and the screen says *error error I hate you* (it has been doing this to us on the website at home too. We're a little fed up.). But for other cities it worked just fine.  From what I had read online, the train we needed left at 8:58, but we didn't know where to go! We tried reading the paper schedules but our town wasn't listed on them. We decided to head up to the platform we predicted it would be on and read the electronic sign there.  Got up and it was going in the correct direction/region, but didn't stop at the little station.

8:59am So now to Plan B, saving Plan A for another time when we have the time to figure out what's going on.  While looking at the schedule before, we saw that there was a train to Dinant right next to where we were.  The sign said something different, but the time was correct and the direction was correct and we couldn't see all the stops in between yet, so figured we were correct and Dinant was just somewhere in between.  Got on the train and got two stations before we realized this train was not going to Dinant.  We contemplated staying on and going to a different city we knew nothing about, or getting off and starting over again. So at the risk of getting in trouble for getting off before we were supposed to, we hopped off the last stop in Brussels and used the metro to get back to the main station. (It might be important to note that the rail pass we have is a "write-in the name of where you are going and where you came from once you get on the train" type thing, so didn't have to actually buy a ticket for a specific train. Hence the confusions.)

9:45am Plan B part 2:  Arrived at the main station, went back to the trip planning machine (which is now working) and found our new train to Dinant (confirmed with other signs) is supposed to leave at 10:03. Perfect timing! But wait... what's this? Train is delayed for 30 minutes.  We used the time to go to the cafe and get a croissant and smoothie.  Then we planned our return trip while we still had technology, and headed up to the platform.  The train had been there the whole time. It was such a nice feeling to see our stop name on the itinerary for the train. So nice I took a picture. And then we relaxed for the next 2 hours.

12:00ishpm Arrived in Dinant.  Pretty cold and windy. I'm not even going to write about the view, you can just see for yourself.

So this is the Meuse River, town of Dinant, Collegiate Church of Notre Dame, and the Citadel (old castle turned into military institution of some sort).
Beautiful, right? We just stared at it for a while, enjoying the view. actually that's what we did most of today...  Went to the top of the citadel via cable car.  There was some sort of Disneyland gimmick exhibit at the top that we obviously didn't pay for, but now is a great time to mention how commercialized Disneyland is here in Belgium. And it's several hours away in Paris... Don't understand. Anyways. More really pretty views, really small, boring museum. Quick cable car ride. Oh well. Great views. Cold air too.

We then moved on to lunch on the river.  Being that this is a teeny town, no one speaks much English.  We had to order in French, which was fun! We pointed to stuff on the menu and everything seemed dandy.  We both ordered prosciutto paninis on ciabatta bread.  A waitress came outside to our table carrying two pizzas. She started placing them down and we said "no, not us" because we ordered paninis.  She was looking all over the place for the table, and after crossing the street twice, comes back to our table.  I pointed on the menu and asked if that's what she was holding and she said yes.  So we ended up with two ham and cheese pizzas.  When we ordered paninis.  Something was definitely lost in translation because we pointed to panini section both times and were told that's what they were. So... weird. There was an entire other page for pizza. But whatever! It was delicious! And we finally learned the word for "bill" or "check", which we have been needing desperately since we've been here.

Lunch down, we head to the city's defining moment of awesomeness.  It is the birthplace of Adolph Sax who, can you guess it, invented the saxophone!  There are saxophone statues and lights and images all over town, it was crazy! We went to "La Maison de Monsieur Sax" for the museum... It was one room of no history and a few pictures with a really cool artistic rendering of a saxophone on the floor. Took about 1 minute to walk through. We passed a few stores and stopped into a candy store for a moment where Marianne got some cookies that we snacked on the rest of the day.

Next stop was the highlight of the trip, the boat tour of the river.  The captain was nice and gave us papers in English so we could follow along with what he was saying.  The city was even more beautiful from the boat/river.  By the time we turned around and started to head the opposite direction, I was falling asleep from the tranquility.  It was just so nice to have a calm moment.

By now, we had kind of run out of things to do.  It was after 5pm, so things were closing and all tours had stopped.  We decided to walk up the hill to the "caves" anyway.  It was a pretty far, semi-steep walk and we got there and couldn't see anything at all. No mouths of the caves. So we walked back down and along the river again. We ended up just leaning against a building (after looking at the listings in the local real estate office) and admiring the river while talking.  It started to sprinkle a little bit and was almost time for our train anyway, so we headed back to the train station.

Got our seats all picked out on the train, and off we went! The conductor came by and punched our tickets.  About 10 minutes later, he came back and made an announcement to our cabin about something. In French.  I heard some of it, but was listening to my iPod so wasn't sure what I had missed.  He announced it again over the intercom and it turns out that we were stopping and changing trains to a faster train.  We got off and headed to the train, struggling to find a place to sit with all of the people already on their train and all of our train trying to merge.  After a few stops though, it cleared and Marianne and I were able to sit together again.  Next thing we know, we're back in Brussels.  The return trip took about an hour and 5 minutes. That's a whole hour shorter than the first train there! No idea how that happened.  On the walk home, we passed a great fruit stand/store and bought some petite strawberries. The berries here are so yummy! Prime season for them, and pretty sure they are grown in Belgium. So good!

Got home, uploaded pictures, Skyped with my family, and now finishing the blog so I can go to sleep. It's 1am, so think I'm ready for sleep...

I have a take-home midterm exam for Islam class due Wednesday. Need to work on that soon! Goody!

Have a fantastic Sunday!